CONCORD (KPIX) — Contra Costa County is throwing a $75 million lifeline to renters and landlords with a new relief program funded by federal funds provided to the state.

California’s $2.6 billion in federal COVID-19 rent relief money is finally going to begin helping ease the crisis facing both renters and landlords. It’s a chance for many across the Bay Area to escape the mountain of debt caused by the pandemic.

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Concord’s Monument Corridor has a lot of apartments and a lot of residents like Hector Rodrigues. He hasn’t worked for a year and can’t pay the rent. Rodrigues now owes more than $7,000.

“They’re telling me to pay, pay, pay…but how can I pay?” he asked. “Nothing, there is nothing.”

But now, the COVID Rental Relief program is officially open for business. Contra Costa County alone has $75 million to help bail working-class people out of their rent debt, said Contra Costa District 3 Supervisor Diane Burgis.

“I’m really excited that we have a program that’s going to help people stay in their homes; that there’s one less thing they have to worry about” she said

Russ Heimerich — who works with the California Business Consumer Services & Housing Agency, which is administering Contra Costa’s program — explained how it works. People making up to 80 percent of the local median income apply for help. If their landlords agree, the state will pay 80 percent of what is owed.

“And, in so doing, they will agree to forgive the remaining 20 percent,” Heimerich said. “So essentially, once they take that 80 percent, it wipes the slate clean and you are caught up.”

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It would cover debt due to COVID incurred between April 1st and March 31st. If, for some reason, landlords refuse the offer, the state would pay 25 percent of what the tenant owes, which under the law, prevents eviction.

The state has also reclassified owed rent as “consumer debt,” which can only be recovered by filing a lawsuit. But Supervisor John Gioia says that change holds an important difference under the law.

“Now, they could just get a judgment against you for unpaid rent, but you can’t be evicted,” he said.

Joshua Howard with the California Apartment Association told KPIX it may not come to that. He says most landlords seem thrilled by the chance to recover 80 percent of what’s owed them.

“Our member-services team has been fielding questions since Monday nonstop, which indicates to us that there’s a lot of excitement about the program,” Howard said. “A lot of interest from [property] owners to apply to recover this income that they’ve lost this past year.”

Contra Costa County is using the state’s program, but other counties and local jurisdictions may be administering the program in different ways. Regardless of where Bay Area residents live, people can find out where to apply by visiting the state’s website at HousingIsKey.com or by calling 1-833-2122.

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Help is offered in more than 200 languages and immigration status is not an issue with the program.